For Potential ESD Students:

All of SUTD’s degrees are significantly broader than their counterpart degrees in traditional universities. For prospective students, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the lines between ESD and the other degrees offered, most notably, Engineering Product & Development (EPD) and Information Systems Technology and Design (ISTD). In short, ESD focuses on infrastructure solutions that facilitates, runs, and optimises systems. This is best shown through an example. Consider the specific challenge of delivering and deploying plug-in electric vehicles (PEV) widely throughout Singapore. Compare how the EPD, ESD, and ISTD pillars address the various components of this application:

  • EPD – Design the car for aerodynamics & comfort; design the vehicle’s engine and drive train; simulate and analyse the safety crash test; design and test a high capacity, efficient battery system.
  • ESD – Design the optimal charging policy given the battery technology; analyse the effect of surge energy demands after rush hour; design charging schedule based on dynamic pricing of electricity; analyse life-cycle carbon-footprint of PEV; determine optimal location for charging stations given traffic flow patterns.
  • ISTD – Design and implement car software, mobile device integration, status interface, heads-up display, and secure communication protocols both within the vehicle and between vehicles.

In general, ESD focuses on the logic that organises and coordinates complex systems. This logic is rooted in modelling, analysing, and optimising the systems toward an efficient, productive, and cost-effective solution.

Our ESD degree is also often compared with various other programmes at different universities. ESD incorporates elements from industrial engineering, operations research, applied mathematics, system dynamics, economics, and business. Because the ESD curriculum and focus is so unique, there is no other degree programme that includes both the depth and breadth that ESD provides. In a traditional university, ESD is most similar to an industrial engineering programme. Industrial engineering (IE) also has a theme of modelling, simulating, and optimising systems. In addition IE programmes also introduce many of the same mathematical methods including operations research, discrete mathematics, and network analysis. A major component that differentiates ESD from traditional engineering programmes is consideration of the socio-economic environment in which systems operate. This environment imposes many business- and policy-related constraints. ESD focuses on cultivating the understanding of how these surrounding factors influence the performance of these traditional technical methods and how these two areas can be melded together to yield more robust and efficient solutions.

Industrial Engineering (IE) is a subset of ESD and a student could choose to build a profile similar to that of an IE. ESD is broader because we embrace a wider range of applications and emphasise more economics, public policy and management. An even more significant difference is the rigor of our courses, the high calibre of our faculty, and the unique educational experience we offer (smaller classes, industry involvement, project-based learning, research opportunities, and connection to MIT).

SUTD is a selective school committed to educating the people that will be future leaders of industry, government, and academia. We have many industry and government partners that have committed to hiring our students as interns and graduates as employees, which is a testament to the fact that they believe ESD students will be extremely competitive.

One of the most exciting aspects of Design at SUTD is that it comes in so many forms and flavors. The theme of design is very important in the study of systems. ESD gives you the tools to model, analyse, and optimise real-world systems with a goal that our students will design robust infrastructures and design management policies that lead to increased efficiency, production, revenue, and performance in these complex systems. In the pillar years you will engage in course design projects and case studies that facilitate this kind of thinking.

The ESD programme gives you the opportunity to select 60 credits from elective courses. This flexibility gives you the chance to customise your degree and specialise if you want to. One way to specialise is to follow one of the specific ESD focus tracks.

The ESD core modules – Probability, Optimisation, Statistics, Operations Management, Stochastic & Network Modelling, etc. – do not directly include many Physics concepts. However, these analytical tools can be used to study Physics problems. In terms 6, 7, and 8 students choose the majority of their courses. Since students can take up to 36 credits from another pillar, they can choose electives that are either related to Physics, or not related to Physics.

Currently ESD does not offer a minor.

Term 4:

Data and Business Analytics: Your first ESD project is with a real client from industry or government and typically involves mining a large corporate data set for business insights and making recommendations to the client. In subsequent projects, you will find your own clients.

Term 5:

Manufacturing and Service Operations and Statistics: Propose and validate ways to improve the operations of an organization combining tools from statistics and operations analysis.

Engineering Systems Architecture: Design, build, and test a game or device to meet a social objective.

Term 6:

Simulation Modelling and Analysis: Conduct a digital simulation of an organization’s operations before and after a proposed improvement and measure the benefit.

Network Analysis and Control: Find a database describing a large scale network and analyse its structural properties.


Definitely, yes. Please read the descriptions of projects in the earlier response.

The foundation of the ESD curriculum is operations research, the branch of applied mathematics dealing with decision making and operations analysis. These mathematical techniques are imbedded in a variety of software packages and libraries. You must understand the mathematical principles and develop facility with software and programming to make effective use of these tools and techniques. So, both mathematics and programming are a part of the ESD curriculum. ISTD likely requires more time spent coding than ESD.

HASS equips you with the perspectives and skills to see engineering problems within a human- and social-centred context. These courses take you beyond questions of “What?” and “How?” and encourage you to think of “Why?” and “Why not?” Employers will value well-rounded engineers and reward them with leadership responsibilities.

The term 4 course, Data and Business Analytics, is unique to SUTD combining topics from database management, data analytics, process analysis, and business planning. Its signature feature is an industry-sponsored project so you also receive training in project management, oral presentations, and writing an executive summary.

These days, you don’t need to go to university to pick up the tools of data analytics: there are books, MOOCS, and online materials if you are willing to teach yourself. Similarly, every university will have courses enabling you to pick up these tools. Your facility with these tools will depend more on your personal interest and drive than on which program you attend. That said, our class sizes are small, our faculty passionate, our courses technically deep, and our students entrepreneurial. This is a good place to be.

Fundamentally, you will graduate with an analytical mindset when dealing with problems of business and operations, supplemented by the SUTD orientation toward design. You will be experienced in working with clients and presenting your technical ideas effectively and persuasively. You will be skilled at transforming data into models and using those models to influence major decisions.

Yes, but your career progression depends on the industry, company, and activity. For example, in a consulting company, you might expect to follow the path of “analyst-consultant-partner,” in a business you might follow “analyst-manager-director,” in an engineering firm you might follow “engineer-leader-manager-director,” and so on.

It is not just banking where this question is relevant. Personalized data is available in large quantities in every area of business, government, and social enterprise. This creates the opportunity to engineer mass customization solutions and great user experiences but it also opens the door to insidious manipulation. These are hot topics within the SUTD community and you can expect ethics modules in your engineering courses and full HASS courses where you can clarify your boundaries and strengthen your personal resolve.

Several faculty members engage students in UROP. Prof. Jackson has a large group of students engaged in developing educational course materials to enhance the ESD curriculum. Check the UROP listings each semester to see what is available or contact a professor directly.

We are able to engage ESD seniors in our Term 4-5 courses, provided they scored well in those classes and have good mentorship skills. Our faculty welcomes the opportunity to have UTOPs participate.

Teamwork skills are important because projects are featured in many of our sophomore classes: willingness to carry a fair share of the workload, ability to express opinions without alienating others, willingness to accept consensus decisions, willingness to take responsibility for tasks, timely attendance at team meetings, willingness to lead or contribute to discussions, ability to deliver work against a deadline.

Calculus and linear algebra are foundational courses for ESD.

Facility with Microsoft Excel and a scripting language like Python is also assumed.

Someone who would enjoy listening to and understanding a decision-maker’s problem, identifying quantifiable relationships, using data to estimate these relationships, developing models of dynamic behaviour and decision-making, using mathematical tools to assist in optimizing trade-off decisions, and presenting recommendations to an audience of decision-makers with diverse backgrounds.

We attempt to keep the electives the same for both ESD and ISTD students.

Introduction to Design is foundational for the Engineering Systems Architecture course, a core requirement in ESD. All HASS subjects serve to give the social and historical context for work in ESD. Economics courses in HASS are particularly valuable in ESD (Micro-economics is required). Chemistry and Physics have much less direct application in ESD courses than in EPD courses, but are useful preparation for courses and careers at the intersection of ESD and EPD.

Yes, both pillars offer minors that permit students to devise a blended curriculum. However, not all classes are fully open. For example, ESD students are given priority access to our Data and Business Analytics core class. ISTD students are given priority access to Machine Learning in Term 6. However, ESD offers Statistical and Machine Learning in Term 7, so that should not be an issue. Both pillars have trouble accommodating last minute enrolments in certain courses so, no matter which pillar you belong to, you should take advantage of course enrolment surveys and pre-registration opportunities to ensure you have a seat.

ESD and ISTD are highly complementary. You are better to think in terms of combining the disciplines rather than excluding one or the other. By using University Minors, or the combined Business Analytics focus track, or simply taking a course in the other discipline, you can get depth in one field and exposure in the other.

ISTD will have a course in block chain which ESD students could take. There will be an small application of block chain technology in the new Financial Systems Design course, a Term 8 elective.

The ESD pillar is not for everyone. Several of our core classes, such as Probability and Optimization, require a solid foundation in calculus and linear algebra. You must be comfortable with a moderate degree of mathematical abstraction. Also, because we emphasize a client-facing curriculum you must be willing to work with your team and your client on ill-defined problems. So those are three reasons not to choose ESD. But flip them around and they become three powerful reasons to follow our curriculum: experience the thrill of applying mathematics to practical problems, use abstraction and generalization to make sense of engineering systems, and work with real clients on real problems for which the solution is not at the back of the textbook. If you need additional reasons, ask around and discover that our students really enjoy their professors and our staff.
Personally, taking my first course in Optimisation changed my life. The world suddenly made sense to me in a way that resonated with how I could make use of my mathematical aptitude. After that, learning how to manipulate data in creative ways was the next big source of joy. More such delights followed but what has sustained me is that my career has always been client-facing, working with people to solve their problems, and that flavour pervades ESD.
You can choose a pillar based on what you don’t like, in which case I can confirm that we do not rely on physics to the extent that, say, EPD does. However, you are better to choose a pillar based on what makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning. Each of the pillars has plenty to offer on that score to overcome whatever aspect you don’t like. EPD offers the joy of creating tangible products and systems that improve lives. In ESD, we use calculus and linear algebra to a great extent and this may deter some students. But consider the problems we work on, decision-making within large complex systems, and anticipate that it is a real joy to be able to help people solve these problems.
The first information revolution hit the manufacturing industry about forty years ago. That industry has changed profoundly as a result. The healthcare industry has been much slower to adapt to this revolution, but the pace of change has been accelerating over the past decade. The opportunities for improvements in healthcare systems are as profound as what manufacturing experienced. We now have the ability to mine patient records, anonymised for privacy, across broad populations and over long time-spans to provide clinical treatment recommendations for dramatically improved patient outcomes. There is much that can be automated, streamlined, monitored, and directed to speed delivery, lower cost, and enhance patient experience. Health organisations are actively seeking professionals who combine deep technical skills of the type ESD provides with basic medical knowledge.

For healthcare see question above. Financial organisations are constantly looking for how to revise products and services to better match the needs and values of their customers and clients. At the same time, they must employ strategies to manage their risk exposure. The volume and diversity of data available to tackle these questions continues to grow rapidly. Statistical data analysis, probability, and optimisation as well as basic mathematical modelling are highly valued skills in this industry. Also, a course such as our Investment Analysis would be required to succeed in a job interview. Employers also value critical thinking in asset management. This will become a new theme for ESD as we refresh our Financial Services focus track. Finally, the advent of new technologies such as blockchain is creating the opportunity for new business models in this competitive space. Here is where game theory, economics, and information technology come together. This industry is undergoing rapid transformation and ESD can provide a great pathway into the middle of the action.

We have committed to an Airport Systems Focus Track for your intake but not a Healthcare Focus Track. However, we plan to support a university-wide Healthcare Focus Track with at least one course in ESD. That course will focus on operational considerations and perhaps policy analysis.
ESD students on exchange will be required to take subjects at the partner universities that are equivalent to the two ESD core modules, one elective and one HASS. Where partner universities do not offer subjects equivalent to the two ESD core modules, ESD students can consult the ESD Associate Programme Director (APD) to customise a study plan that can fulfil the ESD graduation criteria. For GEXP 2018, 20% of ESD students are on exchange at 10 different partner universities.
An estimate of 10% – 14% of our ESD graduates have joined both local and overseas universities to pursue their graduate studies.

That is a fun question so it deserves a fun answer. In analysing your future, I would want to know what is your current state and what are your capabilities. I would look at your past as a predictor of your future. I would attempt to assess your values and what motivates you. I would also check into what risk your current operations place you. I would then ask what options you are considering and from there we would map out a set of trajectories leading from those options and how you would value them. We would then put these options into the context of different geo-political-economic-social scenarios that could play out over the coming years. We then assign probabilities to those scenarios and trajectories. I would then assess your attitude toward risk (conservative, risk-neutral or risk-seeking). Based on that, I could then recommend the best option for you. But I would charge a lot of money to do that analysis. If you want to save money, get advice from people you respect and then go with your educated instinct. Choose joy.

For Current ESD Students:

Any focus tracks you complete will show up on your transcript. You will send your transcript to future employers, so they will be able to see this accomplishment along with the rest of your courses.

In principle, you may complete as many focus tracks as you want, however, you may run into scheduling conflicts. Because we want to make the courses available to the most students possible, we prioritise our scheduling for a single focus track.

Yes, you can take only one of the courses out of a pair of half-term courses, however, you must find another half-term course to fill the gap in your schedule. Ultimately, you must take 4 subjects at all times, unless you receive prior approval.

Certainly it should be for personal interest. Business analytics is extremely popular right now but it is not a career path for everyone. Do what you enjoy.

ESD students tend to be on projects requiring data analytics, operational analysis, dynamic systems simulation, and optimization. In future, we expect ESD students to take greater responsibility for systems engineering on capstone projects.

The ESD degree is accredited without reference to a specific focus track. So, yes, you may design your own focus track. But it will be up to you to explain to a prospective employer the value of the courses you chose.

Bitcoin trading is not a focus of the ESD finance courses. But a knowledge of the language and concepts of finance is good preparation for a career in the finance industry.